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Full text of "A letter to Wm. Wilberforce, Esq. M.P. on the subject of impressment : calling him and the philanthropists of this country to prove those feelings of sensibility they expressed in the cause of humanity on negro slavery, by acting with the same ardor and zeal in the cause of British seamen"

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A LETTER 


TO 

* 

Wm. WILBERFORCE, Esq. M. P. 

ON THE SUBJECT OF 

IMPRESSMENT; 

CALLING -ON HIM AND 


THE PHILANTHROPISTS OF THIS COUNTRY 


To prove those Feelings of Sensibility they expressed 


IN THE CAUSE OF HUMANITY 


ON 

JRgro J^laberp, 


BY 

ACTING WITH THE SAME ARDOUR AND ZEAL 

, IN THE 

CAUSE OF BRITISH SEAMEN. 


Published for the Benefit of the Maritime Society. 


Hontron : 

PRINTED BY J. GILLET, CROWN-COURT, FLEET-STREET. 
PUBLISHED BY R. S. KIRBY, 11, LONDON-HOUSE YARD, 

paternoster row; 

AND 10 BE HAD OF ALL OTHER BOOKSELLERS. 


1816 , 



TO THE PUBLIC, 


Nelson made this signal to Seamen — 

“ England expects every man to do his duty.” 

i 

A Seaman now makes this signal to England — 

“Your foes are subdued! seamen expect every 

MAN TO PERFORM HIS DUTY TOWARDS THEM.” 



TO 


WILLTAM WJLBERFORCE, ESQ. M. P. 


Sir, 

I HAVE been anxiously waiting for the present 
period, when the foes of our country are subdued, to address 
you on the subject of Slavery. The great and unwearied 
efforts you have made to suppress the traffic of human 
flesh, will transmit your name with honor, as a man and 
Christian, to the most remote posterity. You have at last 
received the noblest reward in the success which has 
crowned your labours* ; and the treaty just concluded with 
France, consecrates your exertions, whilst it shews what a 
single individual, impelled by an honest zeal, is capable of 
performing. This perseverance and this success in behalf 
of the negro, encourages me to claim your powerful aid, 
in order to redress another grievance equally glaring 
and where the sufferers have a much stronger title than 
the African, to your sympathy. The sufferers are Britons; 
and what is more, to their courage and intrepidity the 
country is principally indebted for the prosperity and 
security she now enjoys. 

I belong myself to this class of men, whose hardships have 
been so long and so unaccountably neglected ; and whilst 
you, Sir, and other philanthropists ranged the earth, in 
order to break the fetters of the slave, you disregarded with 
singular inconsistency, the ill treatment which the British 
seaman, the guardian of your independence, has been 
obliged to endure. In his cause no bolts of eloquence 
were shot, no commiseration was excited ; and whilst he 
encountered death in every form, and raised the fame of 
Britain to the highest elevation that can be reached, bis ill 
treatment, though more galling than that of the negro, 
because he was born and bred up with the rights and 
feelings of a free man, remain unnoticed and u.medressed. 
Such indifference to this most meritorious c a'S ot men 
would detract much from the sincerity of that sensibility, 
which was so ostentatiously manifested foi theunenlightened 

* Had the same zeal been manifested by INlr.Wilberforce in the cause 
of British seamen, and upon the subject of Ire land, this country would 
be able to brave future dangers as it has surmounted past -a rils.. 
Apropos for Ireland : whoever will legislate for that important division 
of the empire must combine the qualities of our Allred and of Peter <4 
Russia — he must unite greatand extensive views to justice and energy 


4 


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African, unless the same persons who have distinguished 
themselves in redressing the wrongs of the latter, should 
come forward to relieve the much harsher treatment to 
which the British seaman has been subjected. 

It has been said by-you and many others in this country, 
that the selfish motives of the proprietors of slaves in the 
West Indies have drawn a film over their eyes, which pre- 
vents them from seeing the evils of slavery ; allow me to 
ask you if nine-tenths of the people of this country are not 
in a similar state, as you term it, of mental and moral 
blindness towards British seamen, who are deprived of the 
benefit of die laws of the land; hunted down as wild 
beasts, # and treated as I was myself, that you and others 
may enjoy the freedom and ease you now possess ; the 
principle is the same ; but you enjoy advantages in a two- 
fold degree over the West Indian who only has pecuniary 
interests; while the people in this country derive not 
only wealth but national consequence from the hardihood, 
enterprize, and activity, of men of my profession. 

To do away w ith negro slavery, you brought forward to 
the public a vast variety of cruel circumstances selected 
throughout the West Indies ; allow me to ask you, Sir, if 
an enquiry, not requiring a fiftieth part of the former 
labour, had been instituted to obtain information on 
topics of cruelty and brutal behaviour towards British 
seamen on the shores of the Thames, whether you 
would not have brought atrocities to light, as re- 
volting as those which you say are committed on the 
coast of Guinea, or in the West Indies ? That they should 
have so long escaped your notice, and that of other 
friends of humanity/whose feelings so powerfully revolt 
at the very name of oppression, exceeds I confess my 
powers of comprehension. It certainly requires explanation 
why our philanthropists can see distinctly what is passing 
to the south of Europe, and cannot discern what is passing 
in their own country. Far be from me the design of de- 
tracting from the generous efforts you have made in the 
favourite and almost absorbing object of your public 
labours ; I merely wish to stimulate the same energies, and 
awaken similar sensibility in a cause, that appeals with still 
greater force to the mind of the man and the citizen. The 
subject 1 have taken up, and in aid of which i c laim the 
support of your talents and reputation, needs no empas- 
sioned delineation — no exaggerated colouring. It only 

* I mean the mode of pricking for men with cutlasses in the hold 
of vessels, which I have heard called, as described by an officer — pink- 
ing : this I saw practised until murder had nearly taken place. 


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requires to be faithfully represented, and brought forward 
before parliament and the public by a man, whose character 
is free from the suspicion of factious motives, and whose 
parliamentary conduct is regulated by his conscience and 
a sense of the genera! good : in that case 1 pledge myself 
that the evil, which is the subject of this appeal, will be soon 
redressed. Every piotive allied with human suffering, 
every sentiment associated with a sense of signal services, 
every inducement coupled with policy; and, in a word, 
the preservation of our present high fame, prosperity, and 
rights as a nation, imperiously call for the enquiry and 
redress I here solicit on behalf of that much neglected and 
harshly treated class of men of my profession, It will no 
doubt hereafter exercise the ingenuity of the moralist and 
of the political inquirer, why the most enlightened 
country upon earth, famed for its laws and its respect for 
the rights of the meanest subject, calling at the very time 
upon the nations of the earth to assist it in the cause of 
humanity and in the extinction of slavery, should have 
tolerated the violence and injustice, which constitute the 
subject of the present letter. The solution of this problem 
will be more difficult hereafter, when the period that those 
acts of oppression were permitted, and the class of men who 
were the victims of it shall be considered : the period 
the most glorious in our annals — the men the first foun- 
ders and the bravest supporters of this vast and towering 
edifice of national glory. Yes, it was at such a period 
that the gallant and constitutional defenders of our national 
independence were exposed, without protection and with- 
out mercy, to be dragged away by fellows, (the outcasts of 
human nature,) from their wives, their children and friends, 
on board a receiving ship, and confined, under locks and 
bolts, as felons; excluded from intercourse with their 
friends, subjected against their will to the rigor of martial 
law r , and liable to be sent to a foreign station for an unde- 
fined period. Sir, it is not my wish to raise yours or the 
public interest, by presenting this subject in a glaring 
point of view. My silence, during the continuance of 
hostilities w ith a cruel and perfidious enemy, is a pledge 
of the purity of my motives ; and it were perhaps to be 
wished that you had, in the agitation of a memorable ques- 
tion, acted with the same degree of discretion, and with an 
equal degree of unwillingness to embarrass the march of 
the executive government. 

To give you some idea of the impress, I shall mention a 
circumstance which occurred to myself. While walking 
in a street in the east end of London in the year 1808, in 


6 


the month of July, about nine o’clock in the evening, with 
my wife holding by one of my arms, and her sister by the 
other, I was stopped by a man who demanded who I was ; 
on which 1 desired to be informed by what authority he 
dared to ask me that question. I had hardly uttered the 
words when I was brutally seized by him and two or three 
more. My wife received a violent blow on the breast, 
which compelled her to quit her hold ; and which was 
struck with such force that symptoms of a cancer appeared 
in a short time afterwards,* those symptoms continued 
for several months, and only the first medical attention 
could have prevented the consequences that were appre- 
hended. The ruffians struck me on the head, tore my coat 
from my back, and afterwards dragged me by the neck for 
fifty yards, until life was nearly exhausted. At this critical 
moment some people who had collected from curiosity, 
fortunately happened to recognise me, interfered, and 
probably by this means saved my life. The fellows who 
had been guilty of this daring outrage upon a British sub- 
ject, ran off to save themselves from the indignation which 
their violence had excited in the crowd. Having been 
informed that they belonged to a gang on the impress 
service, I applied to Lieut. Crawford for their names, 
which he refused to comply with ; and requested me to 
compromise the outrage : of course 1 rejected the pro- 
posal. 1 next applied to the Lord Mayor, who represented 
my case to Lord Howick, then first Lord of the Admiralty; 
his lordship, after instituting an enquiry, transmitted 
the report he received from Capt. Richbald, with an 

affidavit of the gang, and the report of Lieut. C ; all 

of whom, according to their own testimony, were the most 
harmless of men. At the same time Lord Howick repre- 
sented that it was not in his power to punish the man, but 
that he should not he protected by government if 1 chose 
to enforce the'civil law against him. A most gracious 
boon! Such were the feelings of sensibility expressed by 
Lord Howick, on an injury done to a British seaman, and 
to the females of his family : compare them with the 
ostentatious sympathy he always manifested on the subject 
of Negro Slavery, and then inform me if he deserves 
that a mercantile seaman should risk his life to protect him 
and his family from a foreign enemy. It was the bounden 
duty of his lordship to have discharged this man from the 
service, and to have publicly expressed the most marked 
disapprobation of the conduct of the officers under whom 
he acted, in order to offer a salutary example to others. 
This man was continued m the service during the war. 


7 


Upon application to my solicitor I was advised, if 
I wished to inflict punishment on the delinquent, to sue 
him in the Court of King’s Bench for damages, (although 
he was not worth a shilling) in preference to an indict- 
ment, as the plea of state necessity might be set up as an 
excuse for his conduct, and be perhaps accepted by the 
magistrates. 

At the expiration of four months of trouble and expense, 
and having no positive evidence to prove the first part of 
the assault, l received from the jury a verdict for fifty 
pounds damages*. The compensation appears trivial for 
such an act of outrage, but it produced the effect I desired ; 
the fellow absconded for some months, when he found 
means to offer me security for payment in the course of 
two years, by instalments, which 1 accepted. This sum 
did not pay my law expences, not to speak of the medical 
and other incidental expences, incurred by this act of 
violence. 

But what would have been the situation of a man dif- 
ferently circumstanced to what I was, with regard to pro- 
perty, and who would not have had the means of suing for 
redress. He would have been dragged on board the ten- 
der, perhaps sent off to a foreign station ; his wife, without 
money and protection, would have been left exposed to 
the effects of the violence she had sustained, to which she 
must inevitably have fallen a victim ; whilst her distress 
and agony would be inexpressibly sharpened, from the de- 
spair of never again seeing her husband : had she a family 
depending on his exertions for their subsistence, her misery 
would be intolerable. 

Had a negro slave sustained a similar outrage, and the 
circumstance had come to your knowledge, would it not 
have awakened all your indignation, and called forth the 
strongest powers of your eloquence : the public, inflamed 
by your means, into a sense of the outrage, would have 
been unable to sleep soundly until they had brought the 
delinquent to a trial, as they did Governor Picton. 
Though to the memory of that great man, whose merit 
was slowly recognised, the same public are now erect- 
ing a monument ! 

When the interests of seamen are so unaccountably 
overlooked, and that too by persons whose duty it is to 
protect them, we should modify our surprise, that mercan- 

* This was fully more than I expected ; as pecuniary satisfaction was 
not to be obtained, neither was it my aim ; unfortunately, I could not 
prove the person who struck my wife ; this prevented me from insti- 
tuting a criminal prosecution againtthem. 


8 


tile seamen desert their country. In April last, when the 
nation was again likely to be involved in war, it was found, 
that we had not regularly bred seamen to man our ships, 
had their service been required. I then wrote ! o Lord 
Melville a note, stating, that if he would allow me to wait 
upon his Lordship, I should present a plan for raising 
seamen, within a certain time, to man our navy, and for 
doing away with the evils of the impress service. 

His Lordship was pleased to give me an audience ; and 
desired me to commit to paper my ideas on the subject, of 
which I now enclose you the substance* 1 . 

About a month after I had submitted my plan to his 
Lordship, Sir Wm. Scott obtained leave, in the House of 
Commons, to bring forward a bill for the encouragement of 
seamen, and for the more effectually manning his Majesty's 
navy during the war. I expected that something agreeable 
to the title of the bill would have been framed. On the 15th 
of July, the bill passed : it confined itself to a simple regu- 
lation for the distribution of prize-money. With all due 
respect to Sir Wm. Scott, and deference to his profound 
judgment as a lawyer, I take upon myself to say, that he 
misunderstood the character of our mercantile seamen, in 
supposing that the provisions of that hill, would answer 
the object expressed in the title. 

To accomplish the purpose specified in the title of the 
bill is whatevery man in this country wishes; and l have 
no doubt, but that the outlines of the plan which I sub- 
mitted Lord Melville, in May last, would, in time, pro- 
duce those great and desirable results. Penetrated with 
this conviction, I therefore most earnestly claim your 
attention, and that of every person interested in the wel- 
fare of the country, to a hill containing the provision 
which I submitted to the first lord of the Admiralty, and 
as offering the most efficacious means of our retaining that 
political rank among nations, which we at present possess. 
In claiming your assistance, I do it under the impression 
that Lord Melville and the other members of the cabinet, 
however solicitous they may be, cannot interfere d i recti v 
to promote mine, or some better plan; for such is the 
weight of our naval establ shment in political affairs, and 
the reluctance to resign any portion of the influence at- 
tached to that administration, that any plan immediately 
emanating from them, must be defective. However, 
should America become a naval power, some effectual 
scheme must be adopted, and that promptly, or we must 

* My letter to Lord Melville iu May 1815, published in December last. 


9 


prepare for the loss of our present maritime ascendency, 
well as of all the advantages derived from it. 

To raise regularly bred seamen, and retain them volun- 
tarily on board our ships of war, the project l have sug- 
gested must be taken up with zeal, and prosecuted with 
the same ardour and perseverance, that were manifested in 
the question of the slave trade. Public opinion would be 
thus enlist eel in its support, which would remove many 
impediments, to which the executive government might 
be otherwise exposed; whilst it should prove an effectual 
check to the interested opposition of naval men. 

It is generally admitted that our naval system, with re- 
spect to the treatment and management of seamen, has 
something radically bad, arising from a variety of causes. 
One perhaps is, that the articles of war are not sufficiently 
defined, and are left too much to the will and caprice of 
an officer, who too often trained, from his childhood, in 
the most arbitrary principles, exercises a kind of discre- 
tionary command over men, who, beyond all others, have 
their peculiar prejudices, manners, and ideas of sub- 
mission. Had the friends of humanity taken np the 
interests of our mercantile seamen, wit li the same zeai 
that they manifested on questions of much less impor- 
tance, and compared their situation with that of French 
conscripts or negro slaves, they would have found the con- 
dition of the latter almost enviable, when contrasted with 
that of the former. The conscript law was a general law 
of the land, and acted equally on all men ; and as to the 
West Indian slave, the master has a particular interest in 
his welfare; whereas, the abuses of impressment, and the 
arbitrary conduct of many naval officers, with the refuse of 
mankind acting under them, accompanied by the stern 
wants of the public service, expose our mercantile seamen 
in time of war, to such oppression and insult, that the 
suffering of the two former classes of persons, may be con- 
sidered comparatively light. The masters of merchant 
ships and their officers, are not exempt in their persons or 
property, from this system of abuse, contrary as it is to 
express regulations. 

Had the same attention been paid by you and others to 
British seamen, as to the enslaved African, the public 
would, no doubt, have been informed, if the various cir- 
cumstances* oftentimes related as founded on fact, were 
true ; if so, they would deserve public exposure, in order to 

* Here is a field for the research and the sensibility of the philan- 
thropist, and ;,to a certain degree will account for tiie difficulty to 
procure men to man our ships on the peace establishment. 


JO 


correct the evil. If unfounded, they ought to be formally 
contradicted, with a view to efface that aversion to the na- 
val service, which such rumours have on the minds of our 
seamen and lads, as well as to diminish the causes of de- 
sertion, which are aheadv too numerous. Mv view in 
alluding to this, is to direct vour attention and that of 
other friends of humanity, to a class of men to whom the 
country is peculiaidy indebted, who have raised its glory 
to its highest pitch, and extended its influence to the 
boundaries of the earth. If you will enquire into their 
hardships, you will find that they are not inferior, at times, 
to those sustained by the negro slave. I am well aware, 
that my remarks will pass unheeded, or obtain a very 
slight attention, from the prepossessions which generally 
prevail in favour of our naval service — blind fatality ! 

It has been advanced by officers, of late years, that they 
can train men for the navy, in a short space of time, to 
answer all the purposes of the service. That courage and 
physical strength may belong to any man, I readily believe; 
however, when the Americans made war upon us, their 
confidence received a check, for they soon found that men, 
possessing the skill and conduct of regularly bred seamen, 
were wanting to cope with the enemy. This truth will 
be equally conspicuous in every future contest, unless pro- 
per methods are taken to frame a system, by which the 
country may be served with regularly bred seamen, who 
can alone secure her pre-eminence at sea. 

Having understood that you see most things in a reli- 
gious point of view, I shall beg leave to direct your atten- 
tion to what has happened in Europe, since the year 1789> 
down to the present period. Providence has given a 
lesson to all the European powers, and that in the most 
pointed manner, by severely visiting them in what they 
valued most, and in which they supposed they were least of 
all assailable. 

FRANCE; Paris, — the Sodom and Gomorrah* of the 
day,' — where the king was generally reverenced more 
than the Supreme Being ; yet, what was his fate? His 
power was first undermined by false reasoning, and next, 
he was mwrdered by those apostles of anarchy and im- 
piety. — the jacobins and sceptics. His murderers, in their 
turn, were trampled upon y a man, who rose out of their 
own body, and who united in his own person all their vices. 

PRUSSIA, raised by the events of war, and who va- 

* I apply this epithet inconsequence of a story related to me by an 
officer of the French king’s guard ju 1790. 


11 


lu led herself on the formidable strength of her army, saw it 
totally annihilated, in one day, by this child, champion, 
and scourge of jacobinism. 

HOLLAND, the modern Carthage, where every thing 
was venal, and where the best sentiments of the human 
mind were absorbed in pecuniary interest. This nation 
was plundered in an extraordinary degree, and robbed of 
what it prized abo.ve honour and patriotism. 

AUSTRIA, a state which valued itself upon the pre- 
eminence of its reigning family, was reduced to the 
most mortifying of all degradations, that of sacrificing a 
princess of this illustiious house to an usurper, and who, at 
the same time, was its most cruel enemy. 

RUSSIA, who considered herself unassailable, and ca- 
pable of defying the combined enmity of all the other 
powers of Europe, on account of her geographical situa- 
tion, and the magnitude of her military establishment, 
saw' the same conqueror, penetrate to the heart of her 
empire, and was obliged to burn the sacred city , to save 
herself from subjugation. 

The victor himself, lifted up in his own imagination 
beyond human nature, and the assaults of adverse fortune, 
was, in the very midst of this proud security, tumbled clown 
at once from all his grandeur, and, through a visible mani- 
festation of Divine Power. Though allowed to rise again, it 
was only to make his second fall a greater and more 
memorable lesson to mankind. 

Our own country, who valued herself on the supposed 
invincibility of h£r navy, has in several engagements, been 
foiled by a nation possessing only a few ships, but those 
manned by mercantile seamen. 

At present, the people of France have all the nations of 
Europe upon them, to punish them for their past ambi- 
tion, and to cure them of their mad passion for universal 
empire. Sir, [ have produced these instances, to shew 
that Eternal Justice never slumbers, and that pride, when 
it becomes too towering, defying divine and human 
precepts, is certain of being punished in the yery height 
of its presumption. 1 have, also, enumerated those exam- 
ples, in order to prove, that the suggestions of human 
prudence, too often despised in the hour of prosperity, are 
never deviated from with impunity. To retain power* it 
is indespensably necessary to cultivate the means by 
which it was acquired : this remark is peculiarly applicable 
to naval ascendancy. 

Those few observations also suffice to prove, that the 
Supreme Being has been giving a lesson to governments 


12 


and people, for the regulation of their respective conduct, 
as well as to shew, that their happiness is inseparable. To 
the former it has been palpably manifested, that the rights 
and privileges of their subjects are as sacred as their own, 
which it is not only their duty, but their interest, to pro- 
tect. To the people it has been proved, that strict obe- 
dience is due, on their part, to laws framed for the general 
good, for the order and welfare of society ; and, that they 
are bound to respect, and submit to, those, who have the 
cares, the duties, and the awful responsibility of governing 
men. 

Let us now apply this grave lesson to our own country : 
it appears to have been selected from amongst the nations 
of the earth, and raised by Divine Providence to an extra- 
ordinary height of power, first to check, and next destroy, 
the power of the scourge of mankind ; yet, when we reflect 
on the check we received ourselves, and that from a people 
we were in the habit of despising, the more we ought to 
be impressed with the necessity of deriving benefit from 
that lesson, particularly as our vital interest depends upon 
its observance. 

Carthage exercised the same empire over the sea, which 
we do now. When the first causes of dispute broke out 
between that state and Rome, the latter had not a single 
galley, and no other shipping than a few coasting vessels. 
At that time the Carthaginians covered the seas with their 
ships of war, yet the Romans were not discouraged ; with 
the perseverance and spirit of enterprize, characteristic of 
that great and wise people, and which difficulties only irri- 
tated, they were able at last to encounter their rival upon 
her own element, and to destroy gradually her power, her 
commerce, and at last her existence! 

Let us now. Sir, come to a point, which begins to attract 
much and very general attention ; I allude to the outrages 
so long exercised by the Algerines. 

Can it be otherwise than mortifying, to men of my pro- 
fession, that they are obliged to have recourse to a Medi- 
terranean pass, to enable them to. navigate that sea with 
safety: it does not well accord with our naval superiority. 
I merely advert to this circumstance, to shew how the 
government of the United States, the naval department of 
which is guided by mercantile seamen, recently conducted 
itself; and, I have no doubt, that the severe correction 
inflicted by the American navy upon the piratical slates, 
will rank amongst the first causes to foster the rising 
spirit of that commercial state. As one of the objects 
of my letter is to prevent this spirit from becoming formi- 


13 


dable to ourselves, the circumstance, I have just men- 
tioned, offers another inducement to man our navy with 
regularly bred seamen, for to this point alone, the Ameri- 
cans are inde bted for any distinction they may have ac- 
quired in their recent maritime operations, 

Who were the first men that raised the commerce of 
this and every other state ? Mercantile seamen. 

Who fought the early battles of this country, and gave 
to it the rank of a maritime power? Mercantile seamen. 

Who have principally contributed to raise our navy to 
its present state? Mercantile seamen. 

Who fought the first battles of the late war, until the 
navies of Europe were subdued? Mercantile seamen. 

Who was the cause of the renovation of the transport 
service since the year 1803, and thus added much to the 
political welfare of the country, # besides saving some 
millions of money ? A mercantile seaman. 

Who submits the present plan, founded on a progressive 
system of emulation and reward, for a more effectual 
inode of manning the navy ? A mercantile seaman. 

I am far from mentioning these facts from motives of 
personal vanity, but wish merely to point out the incon-* 
gruity, and indeed ingratitude, of suffering a class of men, 
to whom the country ehiefiy owes its prosperity and con- 
sequence, to be exposed to the hardships I have enume- 
rated. This disregard to their interests and rights is the 
more unaccountable, when it is considered, that a criminal 
in a jail, if he happen to sustain harsh treatment, is certain 
to meet an advocate in parliament to espouse his injury : 
yet, the British mercantile seaman, the main pillar of the 
state, has hitherto found none, either in the legislature or 
executive, to stand forward in his cause. 

You may perhaps express some surprize, that a private 
individual should take up a task of this magnitude, in- 
stead of leaving it to the Admiralty Board or to naval offi- 
cers, who fr'om peculiar sources of information, may ap- 
pear to you, as they do to many others, more competent 
to the task. The inattention hitherto manifested by both 
to this great object, is an answer to one part of the ques- 
tion, whilst I deny the superior competency ; naval-bred 
officers, through the want of proper experience, and from 
the abuses inseparable from un.contro.uJed command, are 
very incompetent to form a plan, for raising and managing 

* I can produce proofs to this last statement, if called upon ; and 
they prove the advantage of mercantile bred seamen in the manage- 
ment of nautical affairs; for to this cause I attribute that the aJteratia* 
of system I then recommended had the desired effect. 


14 


mercantile seamen, who can never divest themselves of a 
sense of their lights as free born subjects, which is con- 
stantly wounded by the arbitrary nature of the discipline 
established in our navy. My plan is, to do away with the 
necessity of this arbitrary treatment. To raise seamen, and to 
form their minds to volunteer their services into the navy, 
which ran only be done, by blending the two services to a 
certain extent together ; as seamen have, of all other men, 
the strongest prepossessions where their profession is 
concerned. They never will cheerfully submit to be com- 
manded by men who are not seamen like themselves. 

A naval bred officer, according to the present training, 
cannot possibly acquire the proper knowledge of com- 
manding merchant seamen ; his only resource is the strong 
arm of power, which disgusts and alienates the minds of 
men trained as the former are. This proves the indis- 
pensable necessity of commencing a total renovation of 
our naval system, which can only be done effectually, by 
bringing the subject before the legislature, where the 
merits of the question can be fully discussed in a com- 
mittee, who could examine intelligent and experienced 
men from both services, naval and mercantile. It is only 
by an enquiry of this nature, that the subject can be com- 
pletely canvassed and understood ; and I feel persuaded, 
from my own knowledge and experience, that the im- 
provements 1 suggest, may be rendered of much easier 
execution than is generally imagined. When did mer- 
chant seamen hesitate to volunteer their services to fight 
the battles of their country when the public service re- 
quired it ? If any lukewarmness was ever manifested, 
it arose solely from the dread of being detained for 
an undefined period in the naval service. As the whole 
course of our history bears out my assertion, it proves, 
that want of courage does not enter into the aver- 
sion, which they now generally manifest for the naval 
service. At the same time, this growing repugnance con- 
veys a strong proof that the present mode of discipline is 
founded on wrong principles, and does not conform with the 
feelings and notions of men like ours, born under a free 
constitution; this discipline also checks the nobler impulses 
which stimulate men to heroic acts, and which the Bri- 
tish seaman will ever achieve, if his country will but duly 
appreciate his exertions. He will also continue to secure 
to her the trident of the sea, against any new rival that 
may arise, as he has done against former competitors. 

It is not to be supposed, that men, who have imbibed 
the opinions that Mr, Pitt wished to instil into them. 


namely, that the rights and privileges of a Briton, are ever 
to be held sacred on this side the grave, will submit cheer- 
fully to the violation of both as in the instances I have 
described. 

The very ideas that you, and the friends of humanity, 
have endeavoured to impress on the minds of all men who 
are taken away and restrained against their will, (the 
principles on which you found a state of slavery,) have 
tended to render our seamen more alive to, and mdre im- 
patient under, the arbitrary restrictions that are imposed 
upon them. I, therefore, insist upon the justice and pro- 
priety, that as the country requires the services of this 
particular class of men, as well as the sacrifice of their 
rights and privileges, the country is imperiously bound to 
remunerate them, not only with such other rights and 
privileges as may be connected with their profession, but 
also with further remuneration to place them on an equa- 
lity with other men. This would be an indemnification 
toward them for the sacrifice required, and it would 
be adequate to remove the evils I have so often alluded to, 
as well as the degrading and irritating mode of procuring 
men by impressment. 

The wor 1 discipline, perhaps is not not so generally un- 
derstood as it ought to be, by officers commanding men : 
too many of them define it to be submissive obedience to 
every regulation or order, which they may arbitrarily sug- 
gest, however unnecessary, with a view to the good of 
the service, and however wantonly imposed upon men. 
The 'perfection of it, in their ideas, is passive submission 
to the will, and even caprice of a superior. I -shall not at- 
tempt to refute so arrogant a doctrine ; I conceive the basis 
of true discipline to be a system of reasonable rules, adapt- 
ed to the duties and necessities of the service; strict obe- 
dience to those rules, ai*d the performance of those duties, 
constitute the virtue of the subordinates, whilst that of the 
officer consists in seeing them faithfully executed, and in 
never exacting more. He should also be able to ascertain 
what his men are competent to do, and nqt require 
more from them than their ability and capacity are ade- 
quate to perform. He should possess the art of "being able 
to work upon the minds of his crew, and thus facilitate, 
by calling forth their moral energies, the execution of 
the duty required. His own conduct should, at the same 
time, serve as an example and a guide to all ; he 
should never make an unreasonable demand, or deny a 
reasonable request ; his word once given, should be 
sacred, and his eye should perpetually watch over the 


16 


comforts of those entrusted to his care ; an adherence to 
those ru!es would tend more effectually, than the ostenta- 
tious display of power, which is too often exhibited, to 
retain the men in a sense of their duty, and to make them 
perform it with zeal and alacrity. 

-As things are often best understood by comparison, and 
as 1 have more than once contrasted the hardships to 
which our mercantile seamen are exposed in time of war, 
permit me. Sir, to state a few instances connected with 
negro slavery, which will not only shew that the com- 
parison is not improper, but that much misrepresentation 
has gone forth respecting the treatment of slaves in the 
West Indies. 

I have known a concern in one of those islands which 
had from twenty to thirty negroes, most of whom were 
sailors, and who during the late war, were captured, s<ome 
once, twice, and even thrice, and were conveyed to that 
land of liberty and equality, Guadaloupe, all of whom 
voluntarily returned to their owners as soon as they could 
getaway, except one who could not be accounted for; 
but this you will perhaps say was a rare instance. Sir, I 
could produce various of the same kind, as well attested 
as any other fact, and which would shew that no small 
share of exaggeration has prevailed on the subject ; how- 
ever, it substantiates the truth of my comparison, and l 
might go farther, and ask, if there be one instance on re- 
cord, of mercantile seamen who had been impressed into 
the naval service, with the same opportunity to evade it, 
ever voluntarily returning to it again. 

I shall produce another circumstance, as shewing the gross 
delusion practiced upon the public on the subject of the 
treatment of negroes in the West Indies; no cause ought 
to be supported by false statements, and it could be easily 
proved, that the triumph which signalises your Parliamen- 
tary exertions, owed part, of its success to the most extra- 
vagant. colouring. I quote, amongst several others, the fol- 
lowing, as an instance. In the print-shops in London, a 
negro is represented with an iron mouthpiece, and this 
exhibition lias been made with a view to make the public 
suppose, that this mouth-piece is put on to prevent the 
slave from eating sugar or cane ; yet 4,he whole of the 
inference intended to be drawn from this subject is false.* 

* When I say this, I mean as to the cause ascribed for the use of 
it. That it may have been put. upon a negro for a criminal act, as 
punishment,! can believe, although I never saw it done, or heard of its 
being done. In this -country for the same act, you perhaps would have 
put a rope round his neck. 


IT 


There is a distemper* to which negroes are subject, and at 
which time they are in the habit, unless forcibly prevented, 
of eating earth; this time their mouth is covered until 
cure can be effected. This is the secret of the terrifie 
mouth-piece, which has been the topic of so much in- 
vective against West Indians. It is not my intention to 
defend the principle or the practice of slavery ; I am only 
anxious that the persons who have displayed so much fer- 
vour, zeal, and perseverance in attacking both, would 
look at home, aitd try to correct the evils to which I have 
called your attention in the course of this letter. To the 
condition of the lower classes in this and every other 
country, hardships are attached, which demand as much 
sympathy as the case of the African. 

I have in this country (acknowledged to possess advan- 
tages over every other) seen women with baskets at their 
backs carrying dung to the field, men loading them, whilst 
the horses were standing in the stable. Was the situation 
of these women, in point of servitude and drudgery, pre- 
ferable to that of slaves in the West Indies ? — yet it has 
not elicited the same declamation. 

With all the clamour we have heard about West In- 
dians, for their malpractices towards people of colour, it 
cannot but appear singular, that one of the most atrocious 
acts of this kind was committed by one of your support- 
ers, an ex-member of the House of Commons, and an ex- 
governor of a West India island. He, like most other 
men who go to that country, soon abjured his opinions 
respecting the condition of negro slavery. This person — 
this strenuous advocate for justice to people of colour — 
borrowed five hundred heavy joes from a Mulatto, and 
repaid him with light ones. The pride of a West Indian, 
leaving honesty and humanity out of the question, would 
have made him spurn at the idea of committing so mean 
an act. 

I have been astonished at the reasons advanced for the 
decree by which Buonaparte abolished the slavedrade, a§ 
if they merely arose from a wish to gain allies among the 
friends of humanity in this country and elsewhere. By 
this act, which originated in any other motives but those- 
of humanity, this able and profligate man, ^—knowing that 
St. Domingo was lost to Fiance, and the other colonies 

* This oftentimes arises through weakness and debility of stomach, 
brought on by living principally on roots and vegetables, without 
having a necessary share of animal or salt food to correct it. 
The French call this Mai d'estomac ; the English call their patients 
Earth-eaters : the former generally apply the mouth-picce ; the letter 
often se$d them on board of vessels to prevent it, 

B 


I 


18 

loit at least to him, — made parade of a virtue which cost 
him nothing, and probably hoped, by making the practice 
general, to embarrass us one day in our colonial system. 
This policy he well knew would depress our marine. I 
have also been respectably informed, that immediately 
after passing this famous decree, this artful impostor 
granted Ijcences to some individuals for carrying" on the 
slave trade, which he had so ostentatiously abolished. 

After this, [ hope you will see the necessity of attend' 
ing to the 41st and 42nd verses of the sixth chapter of 
St.,Luke’s Gospel, before you think of going further from 
home. If you will give yourself the same trouble you 
have taken with negro slavery, and use your influence in 
the same degree with the Legislature, to institute an in- 
quiry into the evils to which mercantile seamen are ex- 
posed, you would in that case bring circumstances to 
light, which should astonish you and the friends of huma- 
nity ; for they would prove that, under the mode of im- 
pressment hitherto practised, acts of oppression have 
taken place which are a disgrace to a civilized country, 
and which, I hope, are equally unknown to Government* 
as they are to the public in general. 

The following, 1 conceive, ought to be among the sub- 
jects for a Committee of the Legislature: — 

1st, What has been the general conduct of the impress 
service during the late war. - 

2nd, What is the present state of naval discipline, and 
if it is founded on principles adapted to the command of 
regularly bred seamen ? 

3rd, Are the present articles of war for seamen suited 
to the enlightened minds of men of the present day ? 

4th, What has been the general conduct of officers 
towards men ? 

3th, What is the cause of the rooted aversion in the 
minds of our mercantile seamen to the naval service? 

6th, What is the best method to raise a sufficient num- 
ber of seamen in time of war, to man our navy and mer- 
chants’ service without foreigners ? 

7th, What would be the most efficacious mode of 
training men and boys in the merchants’ service, jwhich 
is the only good school , to make them effective seamen, and 
form their minds for the navy, when the country may 
require their services ? 

8th, What mode of training is best adapted for officers 
to enable them to command mercantile seamen, render 
them effective, and prevent desertion ? 

. 9 th, What privileges or rights ought to be granted to 

* To this ignorance I attribute roost of the evils which have been 
pointed out in this letter. 


seamen, so as to place them upon an equality with 
other men, when the country requires their particular 
services, and exacts sacrifices from them beyond those 
which are imposed upon any other class of his Majesty’s 
subjects ? 

10th, How far is it necessary to blend the two services 
together for general and individual good ? 

1 1th, What would be the best method to give employ- 
ment to our seamen after the conclusion of a war, until 
their numbers were reduced to answer the peace establish- 
ment of the navy and the merchant service? 

12th, What would be the best plan for the gradual ex- 
tinction of impressment, without depriving the Executive 
altogether of the right of exercising such power on great 
and sudden emergencies ? 

13th, Whether a serious injury does not arise to the 
naval service, by holding it up as a place of punishment 
for those who commit petty crimes, when it ought to be 
held up as a service of honour and interest ? 

14th, What is the cause that men taken from the mer- 
chants’ service with a good moral character, after having 
been in the navy, though for a short lime, become more 
or less corrupted ; so much so, that they have great diffi- 
culty in again obtaining employment in the mercantile 
service when any others can be obtained ? 

15th, What would be the best plan, during peace, of 
ascertaining as nearly as possible the number of seamen 
that might be obtained for the naval service, in case of 
war; and what would be the best means, should their 
numbers he insufficient, of obtaining the requisite supply 
in the shortest space of time ? 

1 6th, How far it would tend to the general good, to 
cause all ships, in those trades that particularly belong to 
this country, to carry a certain number of people according 
to tonnage, and to do away with direct taxation as a 
means of indemnifying the owners for the increase of 
expense ? 

The difficulty that has hitherto appeared to the minds 
of statesmen and of persons at the head of the Admiralty, 
of every attempt to do away with impressment, has inti- 
midated Government from entering seriously into any 
plan for the improvement of our present imperfect naval 
code. This repugnance may be easily accounted tor : 
the execution of such a plan would require t he experience 
•of men intimately acquainted'- with the merchants’ service ; 
in short, it could only be carried into effect by practical 
mercantile seamen. .Naval-bred officers, although they 


20 


may possess much sound judgment in other respects, are 
not calculated to frame laws and regulations for the guid- 
ance of mercantile seamen , which is acknowledged bv 
many of themselves. If our ships are to he effectually 
manned, which can only be done by employing native 
and regularly bred seamen, trained from their earliest 
youth to all the hardships and exertion of the profession — 
inured to every climate and to the changes of season — who 
possessing, at the same time, peculiar manners and habits 
and way of thinking. To command such persons pro- 
perly, (many of whom are of as respectable parents, and 
possess the advantages of as good an education, as many 
of the officers in our navy, and consequently ought to 
have a fair chance of promotion in the service,) it would 
be requisite that the officers commanding such men should 
unite to a thorough knowledge of their profession the 
exemplary conduct that is expected from superiors. It 
is alsojndispensabl^ that they should be practical seamen ; 
for a seaman will never look up with respect and confidence 
to an officer who is not master of his profession. 

It is an error very prevalent in the naval profession to 
insist, that it is not necessary that an officer should be a 
practical seaman. It is unnecessary to combat so gross 
a delusion, particularly in a commercial country, where 
every man who 6ommands a ship of war ought to be able 
to take charge of and conduct a convoy; a duty which 
absolutely requires nautical knowledge and ability of the 
first rale, as well as a thorough acquaintance with what 
merchant ships are able to perform. To the want of this 
knowledge and ability may be attributed the loss of 
many millions during the late war, as well as much serious 
injury in a political point of view. Should this defect 
remain uncorrected, and another American war break out, 
the consequences might be most calamitous.* 

From the zeal, Sir, which you have uniformly displayed 
upon every subject connected with the. public good, l arn 
entitled to claim the aid of your talents and influence 
towards the correction of an evil, which is of .equal 
magnitude with negro slavery, and appeals with infinitely 
more force to British sympathy. Had you and you r 
friends been acquainted with its extent, the extraordinary 
expressions would not have been used in parliament, “that 
it would be better the war should last ten years longer 
than that the abolition of the siave trade should not be 
sanctioned by treaty.” The sentiment did not express 
much benevolence towards our mercantile seamen, who 

* Tins well deserves tlie serious attention of government, of the 
merchant ship-owners, and naval officers; as also a case lately brought 
oa in the Court of Common Pleas — Faith v. Pearson. 


21 


were exposed, as long as hostilities lasted, to the hard- 
ships 1 have so frequently enumerated. 

Though a stranger to you, Sir, 1 am bold to say that 
few men are better acquainted with the state of our mer- 
cantile seamen ; and few have had, and now have, more 
intercourse with that meritorious class. I shall further take 
the liberty of stating, that if proper regulations were once 
adopted for doing away with the evils of impressment, I 
feel no hesitation in saying, that I can do as much to- 
wards carrying into effect the ideas I have advanced, as 
almost any man in this kingdom. 

The plan 1 have proposed will correspond with that 
which you formed for the extinction of negro slavery, but 
with this difference, that you in the first instance pre- 
tended only to aim at amelioration, while you are gradu- 
ally going on to total abolition ; whereas, I set' out with 
the intention of doing away with impressment altogether, 
by working in such manner upon the mitlds of our youth, 
as should prepare them gradually for voluntary and limited 
service in the navy. This would lead to the idea, that it is 
a duty imperative upon them to serve their country ; and, 
when it is impressed upon them, on first entering into the 
mercantile service, that they are liable to he called upon 
for a fixed period, to defend the rights, the honour, and 
the interest of their country, there is no doubt that, in due 
time, it will have the desired effect. 

Here, Sir, is a fine and an ample field for your pa- 
triotism ; it will also afford scope for the exercise of your 
humanity and sense of justice. That the plan has not been 
sooner taken up and carried into effect, may have partly arisen 
from the extraordinary state of public affairs for the last 
twenty-five years ; and many, who perhaps felt its expe- 
diency, might not have had the experience and knowledge 
requisite to arrange and accomplish it. I have not taken 
up th<e subject from private interest, or party motives; but 
having been a witness for a number of years of the evils 
1 propose to correct, 1 feel conscious at the same time 
that 1 could not more- effectually promote the interests of 
my country, than by advocating the rights and improving 
the condition of our mercantile seamen. 

My political creed, as well as, f hope, that of every 
seaman, has always been founded upon this leading point 
— My king and my country’s cause, let who will guide 
the helm of affairs; because I conceive it to he the duty 
of every man to aid the executive government whilst it 
acts for the public good; for government and command, 
founded upon judgment and justice, and obedience with 
respect for rights and privileges, tend to the good of all 
men. 


22 


That the present state of peace, at the conclusion of a 
long war, is the best suited to discuss this subject, is not ttf 
be disputed. The discussion at this time can have no bad 
effect on the service, nor throw obstacles in the way of 
government,- at the same time the subject is now more fa- 
miliar to the minds of men than it will be to the rising ge- 
neration, after a few years of peace. The time is therefore 
unobjectionable; and the execution of the plan cannot 
be longer postponed, without adding to the difficulties of 
accomplishment, and without the most serious detriment 
to the naval service. The American government is strain- 
ing every nerve to improve and extend its navy ; and as 
our relations with that power appear to be extremely pre- 
carious, it would be downright infatuation to neglect this 
vital subject longer; 

It is a melancholy fact, that the mode of impressment 
during the war had nearly annihilated British mercantile 
seamen and officers, so that we had not proper persons to 
train the rising.generation in their duties as seamen. This, 
it must be confessed, is a serious evil, in a country whose 
vital interests depend upon her marine, and proves the 
imperious necessity of substituting a better system. 

Another session of parliament ought not to pass by 
without applying a remedy to the evil.* It is impossible, 
in the present state of the political world, to say how long 
we may enjoy the blessings of peace. Though the rage 
of the storm is spent, yet the clouds are not wholly dis- 
persed. It is therefore imperative upon us to be prepared 
for every possible contingency ; and as the navy is the 
firmest and most constitutional bulwark of these king- 
doms, as well as the great source of our power and secu- 
rity, it is* therefore the first and most urgent of all duties 
to improve its condition, and to insure to it hereafter the 
ascendancy it has hitherto possessed. 

I have the honour to be, 

Sir, 

your obedient Servant, 

THOMAS URQUHART. 

Lloyd's Coffee House, J an. 1816 . 

* Perhaps no man in the kingdom has ever given this subject a 
tenth part of the thought I have bestowed upon it, Irom the circum- 
stance alluded to in my Letter to Lord Melville, which was, that in my 
fathers house, the plan for the bill for registering of seamen, was princi- 
pally written by a friend ; perhaps one of the best-informed nautical 
men of the age, and at that time in nautical affairs the right hand of 
Sir Philip Stephens, then Secretary of the Admiralty. The discussions 
which this led to were so impressed upon my mind when a boy, that it 
has been a thought through life. 

London : Primed by J. Giliet, Crown court, fleet-street. 














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